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29 August 2001

Our current howler (part III): Story starter

Synopsis: Do police believe the "no-ID" theory? Guess what—Martin started that too. (EXTRA! On cable, Chandra Levy’s still pregnant.)

Police keep silence on Levy investigation
Frank Murray, The Washington Times, 8/23/01

Commentary by Tim Russert, Billy Martin
Meet the Press, NBC, 7/15/01

Commentary by Barbara Olson
Larry King Live, CNN, 8/21/01

Commentary by Stone Phillips, Robert Levy, Susan Levy
Dateline, NBC, 8/10/01


The Washington Times made the claim last week; D.C. police no longer believe that Condit told Chandra not to carry ID when they met. In fact, they don’t even believe that much "dating" occurred, the paper’s Frank Murray reported:

MURRAY: The Times has learned from official sources and others with opposing interests in the case that police now believe Miss Levy regularly visited [Condit’s] apartment two or three times a week, solely for sex, and dined out with Mr. Condit just once—meeting him at the Tryst coffeehouse and restaurant on 18th Street NW in Adams Morgan.

Family members told investigators Miss Levy was in love with the married congressman and expected a long-term relationship.

Police also are said to no longer credit a report by Miss Levy’s aunt, Linda Zamsky, that Mr. Condit told Miss Levy not to carry identification when she was with him.

As we’ve noted, the Times report went straight down the memory hole, because it kills a beloved press story. Pundits love the "no-ID" story because it suggests that Condit killed Chandra. On May 1, the day she disappeared, Chandra left her apartment without ID. Over the last six weeks, pundits have said that her lack of ID surely means that she’d gone to meet Condit.

Did Condit tell Chandra not to carry ID? The story never made too much sense. It was never clear what the point would be if Levy left her license at home when they nested. But just as with the pregnancy tale, the no-ID story swept the ranks of pleased pundits. On cable, they loved it for an obvious reason—it pointed the finger at Condit.

And who was the source of the no-ID tale? Would you blanch if we named Billy Martin? On July 15, Martin was happily spinning Tim Russert, saying the Levys didn’t know whether Chandra was pregnant when she disappeared. It now seems that Martin’s story was false; Mrs. Levy has told Judy Bachrach that the family knew Chandra wasn’t preggers (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/28/01). It may be that Martin was just feeding Russert a phony tale that pointed the finger at Condit.

But even before spinning Russert on pregnancy, Martin endorsed the new "no-ID" theory. Two days before, the story had surfaced. Russert asked Martin about it:

RUSSERT: Let me show you the same article from The Hill magazine I showed Chief Ramsey about the ID. Condit asked Levy to forego ID: "Rep. Gary Condit instructed Chandra Levy not to carry any personal identification when they were together, according to police sources." Is that accurate?

The Hill report, citing anonymous sources, had introduced this new theory. Martin instantly backed it:

MARTIN (continuing directly): That is information that the family had. The family does know that Chandra instructed friends and family that when she met with her secret lover and her friend, that that was the procedure used.

Russert asked why Condit would make the request. Martin said he didn’t know, but again said that Condit did make it:

MARTIN: …The family does know that Chandra instructed friends and family that when she met with her secret lover and her friend, that that was the procedure used.

RUSSERT: Why?

MARTIN: That we don’t know. There appears to have been some concern that if stopped, nobody—he did not want her to be identified. But that was the procedure, for whatever reason, and she said she—

RUSSERT: So the fact that she left her apartment with her ID behind must raise a lot of questions in the Levy family minds.

MARTIN: It’s consistent with what we believe to be the procedure she used when she would visit him.

Ouch! Later, Russert returned to the pleasing topic, and Martin nailed Condit again:

RUSSERT: The fact that she left the apartment with only her keys, everything else left behind—her money, her credit cards, her jogging shoes, whatever—what’s your operating theory?

MARTIN: Don’t know. We know right now that for some reason Chandra appears to have been lured, called or brought out of the apartment expecting to return and lured, brought out with no identification taken with her. And it’s suspect, and we just don’t have a theory.

RUSSERT: Do you think it’s more likely she knew her apprehender as opposed to a random act?

MARTIN: We do.

RUSSERT: You do.

MARTIN: We do.

They did. On July 15, Martin gave the "no-ID" theory a very strong nudge, and soon it was all over cable. If Murray’s report in the Times is correct, D.C. police have given up on the tale.

The question here is fairly obvious; was Martin telling Russert the truth when he told him the no-ID story? More specifically, just who were the "family and friends" who served as the source of his story? In the past week, cable pundits (and Murray himself) have sourced this story to Linda Zamsky, Chandra’s aunt. But we can find no sign that Zamsky ever made this claim in her several TV interviews, or in the lengthy essay she distributed to news orgs early in July (see postscript). Zamsky did say that Chandra told her about Condit’s strong desire for secrecy. But while Zamsky listed various "secrecy rules," we can find no sign that she ever said a word about the no-ID story.

Indeed, we’ve been unable to find a report of anyone making this claim—except, of course, for Martin. We can’t find any instance, for example, when Anne Marie Smith or Joleen McKay said that Condit made this request of them, although some cable pundits are now saying the opposite. And we’ve found no sign that any friend of Chandra’s ever mentioned this practice. For example, Lisa DePaulo interviewed an array of friends for her Talk mag piece, but DePaulo quotes no one—except that man Martin—making the "no-ID" claim. Despite that, cable pundits are in love with the story. For example, here was Barbara Olson on the August 21 Larry King Live:

OLSON: There is one question that I don’t think Gary Condit can answer, and that I think is why we all aimed at Gary Condit, besides the fact that he has a relationship. Gary Condit, did you ask Chandra Levy to leave her ID at home when she was with you? And why? Because that is yet another piece of evidence why we have looked at Gary Condit. We are told she left the apartment with nothing but her keys.

Olson makes a sad admission; "we all aimed at Gary Condit," she says, because of the no-ID story. Olson, of course, is dissembling again; she "aimed at Condit" because he’s a Dem, and his conduct allowed major GOP spinners to push images of Dems which they like.

But in the wider world of cable punditry, two major stories, hatched in July, drove the suspicion that Condit killed Chandra. Each of the stories was started by Martin. The pregnancy story now seems to be false—as Martin presumably knew at the time. And the "no-ID" story is shaky. Was there any basis for the "no-ID" theory? The Washington Times says the cops don’t buy it. If we had a real press corps, they’d grill the slick Martin to figure out whether he invented both these fine tales. But don’t worry—our cable claque deals in novels, not news. There’s little chance that you’ll see them pursue the truth behind Martin’s sweet stories.

Thursday: Finale

She should be declared a Righteous Relative: Linda Zamsky, Chandra’s aunt, has been one of the most fair-minded and intelligent players in this story. She has criticized Condit for not being more helpful, but has persistently refused to say or insinuate that he played a role in Chandra’s disappearance. She has helped us retain a basic belief—that normal folks are fairer and brighter than the slugs in our corrupt cable press corps.

In early July, Zamsky distributed a lengthy account of her talks with Chandra to all national news orgs. Until recently, the essay was available at modestobee.com, but the paper has now revamped its site, and the new website don’t seem to work. (We’ll link to the document if it comes back on line.) But for the record, Zamsky’s lengthy essay on the case mentioned nothing about a "no-ID" rule. She did discuss alleged secrecy rules, but the "no-ID" rule wasn’t mentioned.

An alert reader showed us one place where a family member discussed no-ID. It was Dr. Levy, on the August 10 Dateline:

STONE PHILLIPS: Before Chandra disappeared, how much did you know about her relationship with the congressman?

DR. LEVY: She had told me earlier that she was seeing a divorced congressman from Southern California.

PHILLIPS: But you weren’t sure exactly who?

DR. LEVY: No, no, because she was required to—she misled us.

PHILLIPS: Did she tell you she needed to keep it secret?

DR. LEVY: Yes. She told me that she needed to keep it secret and—

MRS. LEVY: It was very private.

DR. LEVY: You know, that there were certain requirements—that she couldn’t meet with whoever it was in public and that, you know, she just had to meet privately and that she couldn’t take identification with her and—

PHILLIPS: She could not take identification with her?

DR. LEVY: Yes.

PHILLIPS: Whenever she went to meet him?

DR. LEVY: Yes.

Was Dr. Levy claiming that Chandra told him about the no-ID rule? His statement is ambiguous on that point, and the interview was given a month after the "no-ID rule" became a part of the Levys’ much-discussed strategy to keep the story in the news by keeping the focus on Condit. We can find no sign that anyone ever mentioned this rule before July 15. Please let us know if that’s wrong.

For the record, the Dateline interview extended an understandable but frustrating part of this story—the Levys’ shifting accounts of events. Dr. Levy told Phillips that he didn’t know who the boy friend was until a May 7 phone call. But according to Lisa DePaulo’s Talk piece, Mrs. Levy knew that the boy friend was Condit back in mid-April, after asking Chandra. As usual, Phillips—cast as know-nothing host—made no effort to resolve the confusion.

 

The Daily update (8/29/01)

Judy Bachrach, please report to the memory hole: Cable pundits love the pregnancy tale, because it gives Condit a motive for murder. Alas! Last Friday, Judy Bachrach stated, on two major news shows, that Chandra wasn’t pregnant. And she named a strong source—Chandra’s mother! But here was loudmouth Nancy Grace, on last night’s Larry King Live:

GRACE: You know, the fact that [Condit] would lie about the simplest things, his relationship, a sex relationship—how are we supposed to believe what he says about more important things, such as the last time he saw her? Did they argue? Was she pregnant? Was there a five-year plan? I can’t believe anything the man says.

Apparently she can’t believe anything Mrs. Levy says, either—or maybe she’s just too lazy to study the case about which she loudly pontificates. At any rate, Grace just loves the pregnancy story. Last night, she enjoyed hearing herself misstate the topic so much, she decided to do it again:

GRACE: The fact is that Condit is evasive on even the simplest issues, including the nature of his relationship with a woman that is now, by many, presumed dead. So, with that foundation, everything else he says is tainted, including things regarding the disappearance, like the last time he saw her, did he see her that day? Did they argue? Was she pregnant? The police can no longer believe anything he says.

Pathetic. (The police have said the opposite, by the way, as we’ll detail tomorrow.) And you know how things work on cable, dear friends. No one else on King’s inept panel mentioned what Bachrach had reported—that Mrs. Levy has flat-out said that her daughter, Chandra Levy, wasn’t pregnant.

So where does Cable Ignorance come from? It’s a compact, honored all through the media. Last Friday, Bachrach reported a very significant fact, sourced by name to Chandra’s mother! And what did the media do with that fact? According to a Lexis search, not one single newspaper—not one; zero; none—has reported what Bachrach said. And it hasn’t been mentioned on any TV show—not one show has cited her statement. None!! This summer, unsourced rumors that Chandra was pregnant swept all through the world of cable. Grace was still peddling that rumor last night. But when a strongly sourced claim says the story is bunk, that report goes down the memory hole. Your "press corps" is constructing a novel, not news. And they’re pimping the "facts" that they like.

Why did cable say Chandra was pregnant? It gave Condit a motive for murder! And why has Bachrach’s fact disappeared? It doesn’t fit the story they like, and pundits like Grace—corrupt to the bone—are determined that you ain’t gonna hear it.

Commentary by Nancy Grace
Larry King Live, CNN, 8/28/01